Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Interfaith Forum meets Councillors

I went to the meeting of the Hastings Interfaith Forum yesterday (Tuesday 27th, 6 pm) at the WRVS in South Street St Leonards. It was one of a series special meetings called with local community groups, so that the Council leader, Jeremy Birch, and deputy leader, Jay Kramer, could outline the Council’s programme for the year and dialogue about any issues which those present might wish to draw to their attention.

The Labour Council is to try to keep to their proposals put to the electorate (such as the compulsory purchase of the pier and the cultural regeneration programme) subject to working within the coalition government's cuts. There was some talk about an equalities charter, an anti-poverty strategy, improving disabled access to seafront businesses, being open and transparent, and holding a "Big Conversation".

I raised the question of whether the Public Library is included in the regeneration programme and the higher education expansion in Hastings Town Centre, but apparently this is in the hands of East Sussex County Council and plans to move it are indefinite. (I'd have thought it could be combined with the College Library at a considerable reduction of costs, but this seems not to have been considered.)

On Sunday 1st August there is an "Asian Delights" event at St Leonards Gardens 2-6pm, where Middle Eastern and Asian food and music can be experienced, organised in part by Hastings Intercultural Organisation.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Local Transport to Faith Schools Cut

The following news item about our area has been copied from the National Secular Society's Newsline:

Faith school transport to be cut in East Sussex

Another local authority is planning to cut discriminatory subsidised transport for pupils going to "faith schools".

East Sussex Country Council says it will save £500,000 a year by axing the subsidised transport currently provided for primary pupils to get to faith schools if they live more than two miles away (three miles for secondary pupils). The cuts will affect some 1,350 pupils in East Sussex.

Councillor Keith Glazier said: "We need to be very clear that this is about proposed cuts to support we currently choose to provide. Many other local authorities do not provide any assistance for families who chose church schools over their local school. And other parents who choose not to send their child to a local school have to pay the full transport costs."

Mr Glazier said: "Our priority has to be to protect key frontline services, especially those for vulnerable children, and we are having to look at all services to see where savings can be made."

Mandatory free transport provided for pupils of families receiving benefit is unaffected. Parents are to be consulted on council's plans between 22 July and 30 September. A final decision will be made in the autumn, with church school transport likely to be cut from January.

Sunday, 18 July 2010


On Saturday I went to the BHA AGM held in Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London. This was the first time I've attended the AGM and it was somewhat more interesting than I thought it might be. There were three forums held in the morning, but I missed these since I had other business to attend to. The photo was taken just before the meeting started. The wording above the stage reads "To Thine Own Self Be True" which is a translation from the Greek motto at the Delphic Oracle. What exactly it means is of course open to interpretation, like anything oracular.

The meeting began with a performance by the BHA choir. Somewhat controversially, but apparently at the request of Andrew Copson, they sang "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. That was good. However their rendition of "Somer is icomen in" this time seemed to be a conflict betwen the choir and the pianist, but perhaps I was sitting in the wrong place.

After the reports by Robert Ashby the chairman, Andrew Copson the chief executive and the presentation of the accounts by the Treasurer, the most interesting part of the actual AGM was the election of the Trustees, and the debate that accompanied it. The problem is that you have to vote for people that you may not have met and may know nothing about except what they have written in their address.

The meeting ended with a talk about Education from A. C. Grayling, covering everything from ancient Sparta to the less successful efforts of Russell, Wittgenstein and Popper. I wondered if he is planning to set up some school himself, but no-one asked that question. Why shouldn't Humanists set up Academies if the funding can be found? Otherwise we are simply ceding the ground to the churches.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Our July Meeting: Humanist Weddings

Thanks are due to Lesley Arnold-Hopkins for an excellent and often amusing talk, together with a few musical illustrations, about Humanist Wedding ceremonies this evening (8th July). Thanks also to the two members of the audience who took part in the illustration of hand-fasting.

Despite a good mention for the meeting in the local press we only attracted 10 people this time, in addition to the speaker, but no doubt many people have found cooler things to do in this very hot weather. In common with other Groups we are now taking a break, and the next formal lecture meeting will be in September.

There were some lively questions and answers at the end of the talk, and we also had time for a general discussion session. Len Myers brought an old leaflet, unfortunately undated, from the Brighton and Hove Humanist Group which had the words of John Lennon's poem Imagine on the back page, where it says that he "expressed very clearly the Humanist philosophy". However, Jacob noted that it was more of an Anarchist lyric. The leaflet also contained details of a Bexhill and Rother Humanist Group, and a North Sussex Humanist Group, which no longer exist.

The question of how to define Humanism came up again, and I mentioned the Amsterdam Declaration of the IHEU as one such statement, though it is very much "motherhood and apple-pie" that very few could disagree with.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Tom Paine in Lewes

Photo: Tony Benn examining the memorial to Tom Paine in Lewes, while the man on the left appears to be trying to push it over!

Over the week-end (3-4 July) I visited Lewes on two occasions. The first was to join a group from Berkshire Humanists to visit Bull House, where Tom Paine lived for six years (1768-1774) before emigrating to the American colonies, and to hear a talk on Paine from local author David Powell.

At the meeting I learnt that there was to be another event the next day (4th July US Independence Day) when a new memorial to Tom Paine by local sculptor Marcus Cornish was to be unveiled by Tony Benn. There is a fuller report with other photos on a page of my website:

Tom Paine in Lewes

The sculpture appears to represent something like Tom Paine emerging from obscurity to fame, or notoriety.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Response from Amber Rudd MP

The BHA urged us to write to local MPs asking them to vote for two Early Day Motions: EDMs 243 on "science education in schools" (for evolution to be included) and EDM 185 on the "Ulster museum exhibition" (for creationism to be excluded).

Our new MP Amber Rudd has replied to my email, saying that she will NOT be signing because she is "happy with the current provisions for science education".

She writes that: "The Government wants the new curriculum to be slimmer and less prescriptive, thus giving schools more freedom to innovate." and "will remove everything unnecessary from a curriculum that has been bent out of shape by the weight of material dumped there for political purposes."

This seems to entirely miss the point of the motions. Evolution should be included because it is the basis for understanding biology, not for any political reason.

I note that the "Sceptical Voter" website that I mentioned last year, has apparently not been updated since the election. It still lists Michael Foster as our MP and features Evan Harris on the front page, though he lost his seat.

The Law Scrappage Scheme

You have probably all heard by now of the government's new website asking us to tell them which laws we would like to see scrapped. I tried visiting it yesterday, but it wouldn't come up on my screen, due to being too busy I presume. It has come up this morning, and there are already quite a number of good suggestions.

The first thought of most Humanists was to abolish the law about compulsory Christian assemblies in schools, but I'm sure there are many others. Your suggestions would be welcome in the comments here.


Closer to home, I've just received news that our member Rose Austen has had a fall and is hospitalised - as if she didn't already have enough to put up with. I've tried to cheer her up by saying that my brother Michael also had a fall recently and broke his leg, but was out of hospital in a few days - it's surprising what the doctors can now do with a few nuts and bolts! But I don't suppose this was much consolation. One feels rather useless in such circumstances.